Oh, hi! Did my headline get your attention? Everyone loves a good rant, right?
Here’s a better question though: is your view of my credibility as a writer improved, or has it suffered due to my use of the sensational headline above?
Now what if I told you that while I believe the above to be true (I don’t) I’m really not qualified to give a definitive opinion since I haven’t read and interviewed most, or even many, American wine critics. How would you view my credibility now?
It’s an interesting question I think, especially after attending a book reading by Alice Feiring last night.
I went with Patrick and Genevieve of Iridesse Wines after an OWC meetup at Bovolo for a couple beers. We ambled over to the Healdsburg library, listened to Alice give a reading from her recent book and enjoyed a little Q&A with her after. To her credit, she took quite a bit of time to engage and the give-and-take was one of good humor from both Alice and the audience. She was charming and sweet and her writing is undeniably good.
Surprisingly, as far as wine goes, there are actually a few areas where Alice and I (and probably many Sonoma vintners as well) agree. It’s just that it’s extremely hard to find a middle ground with a person who would deign to write an article telling everyone to flush their California wine down the nearest commode, as Alice did in the LA Times earlier this year.
Alice claims that she just wants to make sure that the style of wine she prefers (lighter, less ripe, more transparent) shall not perish from the earth. It’s a laudable goal.
As I wrote in a previous post a year ago entitled “Bashing the 100 point scale”, if you decide to make a wine in a style that the market doesn’t want, you really only have two choices: you can either go broke, or you have to somehow create a market for your preferred style. Alice’s book is her attempt to help her favored producers (mostly French) do the latter.
In Alice’s more sober moments, when she isn’t marketing her book with a ferocity normally reserved for a new world brand manager, she’ll describe her mission by way of a question: “Isn’t the world big enough for more than just one style of wine?”
I’ll stipulate that it’s pretty clear the answer is “yes”. But how exactly does the inclusive, forward-thinking philosophy encapsulated in that pointed question about wine homogenization co-exist with the narrow-minded, hyperbolic view that nearly all California wine is undrinkable and you should throw it out?
That’s the basic question I had for Alice. So, when I asked her if she regretted writing the infamous LA Times piece, I was surprised at her response.
“No,” she answered, and gave as her grounds the reasoning that it was good marketing for her book and for her message. “It got people talking,” she said.
I suggested that such a position wasn’t all that different from a new world producer creating extracted, fruit laden wines so that they would stand out in a blind tastings. Aren’t winemakers also just trying to make an impression by “going big”? Aren’t they also just trying to get more people talking and buying their wines by making their juice as tasty and over the top as possible? Sadly my riposte didn’t seem to make much of an impression.
Still I’m left wondering: why do the marketing ends justify the means in one case, for writers, but not the other? And aren’t the New World producers on higher ethical ground in such a discussion, since at least they aren’t trying to proscribe one style of wine to the market at the expense of another, but are instead simply serving folks what they say they want?
I feel that if you’re serious about wanting to change people’s hearts and minds on anything, the best way to do so isn’t to tear someone (Parker) or something (a wine style) down. It isn’t to demean. It isn’t to insult.
The preferred way, the better way, the way that leads to lasting change in tastes and preferences, is to educate. Champion producers who hew to your way of thinking. Raise up the few that meet your standards at every opportunity and push hard to make them a success. Their success will encourage others to join them. And you’ll all be big winners.